Kume-Shima is just 102 km (63 mi) southwest of Okinawa's capital, Naha, and for the mainland Japanese it is the ultimate domestic destination. It has beautiful beaches and excellent dive sites. Its green interior presents shifting landscapes of fields, exuberant flowers, and hillside slopes of elegant Fukugi trees with the sea always sparkling in the background.
In the Maju district, a particular and extensive group of 200 year-old Fukugi is especially esteemed - along with 250 year-old Ryukyu pine that looks like a paradoxical giant bonsi, and is a designated National Treasure. With a diameter of 4,3 m, 6 m high and covering 250 sq m, this magnificent pine is celebrated in Ryukyuan poetry as one of the sacred natural beings - like the yonic lava tube called "miifugaa" at Kume's north tip, or the offshore phallic lava column called "garasa-yama" in the south - revered by its animistic culture. Beneath the meticulous service culture of its resorts, Kume is an outstanding exemplar of a tradition rooted in its history as part of a once independent Ryukyu kingdom.
Kume's triumph is to have incorporated its fundamental beliefs into its tourist economy. Visitors love the textiles called Tsumugi, made by a process kept alive ince the 15th century and considered an "Intangible Cultural Property". They adore the island's version of Awamori liquor, made from local spring water, Thai rice and black malt yeast. Like certain places, these are associated with ancestors, and regarded with reverence. The respect extends to Kume's magnificent indigenous fireflies and superb marine ecology.
Lack of respect causes real resentment: the US has used the nearby islet of Torishima, a traditionally brilliant fishing groud, for fifty years of regular bombing practice, carelessly pounding it to gravel in a culture that holds care for natural things as the highest human responsibility.
WHEN TO GO
Year-round (avoid the typhoon season of September to October).
Come for the Kume Marathon in balmy, beautiful October to November.
HOW TO GET THERE
By air, via Naha (Okinawa) from Tokyo, Osaka, Taiwan, to Kume;
By hydrofoil (April to October) from Naha to Madomari Port, Kume;
By ferry from Naha to Kanegusuku Port, Kume;
Windsurfing, jet skiing and all forms of water sports on Hatenohama and Eef beaches.
The turtles in the vast research tanks of the Kume Island Sea Museum and the fireflies glowing magically at the Firefly Centre.
The 250 year-old Uezu Family Residence, a designated National Important Cultural Asset - the superbly preserved manor house complex of a Ryukyuan noble family.
The booming taiko drums accompanying the children of Kumejima performing the Elsa (Ryukyuan traditional drum dance) in costume, either at Nakazato village or in the square in front of Umigame (Sea Turtle Hall). Any of the festivals of celebrations where you can see the Hatagashira - the traditional Ryukyuan sport of balancing huge cabers or flagpoles weighted at the top with heavy and elaborate decorations.